Modern Day Piracy: Somalia

2 October 2008 at 4:36 pm (News, World Issues) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Somali pirates on a hijacked cargo ship holding battle tanks and hostages said Thursday that they were ready to battle any commando-style rescue attempt.

The warning came a day after the Somali government gave foreign powers a blank check for using force against the pirates, while U.S. warships continued to circle nearby and a Russian frigate headed toward the standoff.

“Anyone who tries to attack us or deceive us will face bad repercussions,” the pirates’ spokesman, Sugule Ali, told The Associated Press by satellite telephone from the Ukrainian ship MV Faina.

Ali sounded calm and relaxed despite being surrounded by a half dozen Navy vessels and buzzed by American helicopters.

Navy officials decline to comment on the possible use of force, but they warn the pirates against harming the 20 crew members or trying to unload the ship’s cargo of 33 Soviet-designed T-72 tanks and other weapons. They make clear they won’t allow the arms to fall into the hands of an al-Qaida-linked Islamic movement that is battling Somalia’s government.

Ali said the pirates planned to release the ship with crew and cargo intact after receiving the $20 million ransom they have demanded. They seized it Sept. 25 and are no anchored off the coast of central Somalia.

“We have nothing to do with insurgents or terrorist organizations. We only need money,” he said. “We would never reduce the ransom.”

The Faina’s hijacking, the most high-profile this year, illustrates the ability of a handful of pirates from a failed state to menace a key international shipping lane despite the deployment of warships by global powers.

Ali specifically warned against the type of raids carried out twice this year by French commandos to recover hijacked vessels. The French used night vision goggles and helicopters in operations that killed or captured several pirates, who are now standing trial in Paris.

Russia, whose warship was not expected for several days, has used commando tactics to end several hostage situations on its own soil, but dozens of hostages have died in those efforts.

The Faina standoff will probably be resolved with a ransom payment like nearly 30 other hijackings this year, said Roger Middleton, who published a report on Somali piracy for a London-based think tank, Chatham House, on Thursday.

But the negotiations might drag on, he said.

“In some of these instances pirates have held out for almost two months,” Middleton told the AP. “They know how to wait things out. I think the likeliest conclusion to this, and the swiftest, is the payment of ransom. The alternative for the shipping company and the international community is that the ship is sunk and her crew die.”

Hijackings of this Horn of Africa nation are being conducted with increasing sophistication by pirates equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, satellite phones and global positioning systems.

Middleton estimated they have already pulled in up to $30 million in ransoms this year.

A Danish intelligence company specializing in maritime security said Thursday that Somali pirates make an average of $1 million per hijacked vessel and hold ships for an average of five weeks before freeing them.

On Wednesday, the Somali government authorized foreign powers to use whatever force is necessary to free the Faina.

A U.N. Security Council resolution in June gave permission to nations to send warships into Somalia’s territorial waters to stop “piracy and armed robbery at sea” if such operations were taken in cooperation with the weak Somali government in Mogadishu.

But foreign warships in the area have not deterred piracy off Africa’s longest coastline. On Thursday, the Bahrain-based spokesman of the U.S. 5th Fleet, Lt. Nathan Christensen, said the Navy received reports of three more failed attacks on shipping in the Gulf of Aden.

Middleton said the risk of hijackings threatened to further drive up prices for the oil and other goods being shipped to Europe and America from the Middle East. He said insurance rates for vessels traveling by Somalia had jumped tenfold.



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